Upcoming Workshop on Vulnerability and the Organization of Academic Labor

Our workshop on Vulnerability and the Organization of Academic Labor will take place next Friday and Saturday at Nottingham Trent University. Interested? You can follow us @VHCInitiative on Twitter or @VulnerabilityAndTheHumanConditionInitiative on Facebook for updates. Information about the workshop from our call for papers is below:

“Vulnerability, which arises from the fact that we are embodied beings, is the universal human condition. While this insight is important to understand how human beings are inevitably embedded within social institutions, such as the workplace and systems of education, the language of vulnerability also allows us to analyse institutional forms of organisation and operation. As human creations, our institutions are vulnerable to capture, corruption, failure and change, which can frustrate or pervert the vital role they play in regard to the wellbeing of individuals and the reproduction of society. This workshop is interested in exploring the intersection of individual and institutional vulnerability in the context of academic labour, with special interest in legal academics, law schools, and the legal profession. We invite participants to interrogate the purpose of legal education in relation to the reproduction of democratic societies, with attention to the complex and interlinked nature of vulnerability in legal education, legal practice, and legal governance. We believe that the discipline of law, along with other social and political institutions, plays an important structural role in codifying orcontaining norms and values, and also in defining the roles and relationships of the professional and professional institutions within society. Framing this discussion around the legal profession is thus a useful launching pad for a broaderdiscussion of academic labour and the neoliberalization of the academy more generally.University-based legal education around the world is subject to serious pressures that threaten to distort its mission and undermine the resilience of its academic practitioners. Sources of resilience are degraded by many features of modern academic life. Of deep concern is audit culture, which relies upon metrics that incentivise gaming, undermine professionalism, and produce professional alienation through demands to respond to distorting and distracting metrics. Universities are also increasingly spaces of precarious employment, which both generates economic and psychological insecurity and undermines professionalism through the fragmentation of tasks. Modern workplaces are shaped by an incessant need to respond to change in the disciplinary, institutional, technological, and performative realms – a feature of reflexive modernity generally and managerialism in particular. Finally, the marketisation of education tends to perceive the legal educational mission as instrumental rather than ethically or culturally meaningful, thus adding to alienation. Legal professional work is also impacted by forces that can degrade the resilience of practioners, which has implications for the content and design of legal education. Precarious employment, new types of sub-professional employment (para-legal positions), and the de-skilling of tasks through workplace organisation and uses of information technology have all shifted the foundation of lawyering as a profession. At the same time, there is a constant pressure to increase billing hours alongside the neglect of mentoring and development and employee wellbeing. Contemporary notions of professionalism have become increasingly narrow in focus, as market forces have transformed professional relationships into commercial transactions and contributed to the commodification of services. How law schools and individual academics should respond to these changing life chances of their students is unclear and under-researched. On a global level, the public sphere of debate and trust in law as a fair and efficient instrument of governance is under strain in an era of rising populism – and the role of law schools and legal professionals in responding to this threat is under-theorized and under-articulated. This Workshop seeks to explore how a vulnerability focus might help us to rethink such fundamental questions of social and structural responsibility, and the mechanisms of governance required to translate these frameworks into action.”

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